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STELLAR CHEMISTRY
Maxwell Tech Provides Computer Power To ESA Astronomy Mission
by Staff Writers
San Diego cA (SPX) Feb 11, 2014


File image.

Maxwell Technologies has supplied seven powerful single board computers that are providing processing power for the European Space Agency's (ESA) Gaia satellite, which lifted off on December 19, 2013, to survey more than a billion stars and other celestial bodies to trace the origin and evolution of the Milky Way galaxy.

Gaia is a key European space mission financed and implemented by ESA. Gaia was developed by European aerospace companies, with Airbus Defence and Space France-based unit, formerly known as Astrium, as prime contractor and payload supplier.

Maxwell supplied the computers through a $3 million subcontract with Airbus Defence and Space's United Kingdom-based satellite unit, which designed and manufactured Gaia's seven video processing units (VPU).

The Maxwell SCS750 space computers, which are incorporated into Gaia's VPUs, are operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to process images and data gathered by the two-ton satellite's two telescopes and billion-pixel digital camera.

The massive volume of data that will be collected during the five-year ESA mission and the precision of the imaging instrumentation will enable scientists to create a three-dimensional map of the galaxy and study its formation with unprecedented detail and accuracy.

Peter Bennie, Airbus Defence and Space's project team leader, said, "the satellite will observe and record the motion, brightness, temperature and composition of a billion or more stars 70 times each over the life of the mission.

After our exhaustive evaluation of available space-qualified computers we determined that Maxwell's SCS750 was the only single board computer that could meet both our video processing requirements and Gaia's power and mass constraints."

The satellite was launched into an orbit at Lagrange point 2, which is 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) into space on the "night side" of the Earth so that it is shielded from glare from the Earth, sun and moon that otherwise would interfere with image and data collection. ESA officials expect the information gathered by the Gaia mission to have an impact on astronomy comparable to that of weather satellites to meteorology or genome mapping to the study of genetics.

Proprietary component shielding technology and system-level architecture enable Maxwell's SCS750 to withstand the effects of environmental radiation encountered in space to provide the most reliable space computer currently available.

It is based on a "triple modular redundancy architecture in which three commercial IBM PowerPC 750 processors run the same program at all times and "vote" on each operation. If one of the processors suffers a radiation-induced upset and disagrees with the other two, the system is automatically resynchronized and resumes error-free operation.

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